Signs Indicate That Duels May Be Hurting Party

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

With Democratic voters falling into generally predictable patterns, there are signs in the Pennsylvania exit poll that the prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination may have negative consequences for the party.

There is a growing sense among Democratic voters that Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) are attacking each other unfairly, and majorities of each candidate's supporters said they would be dissatisfied if their top choice did not prevail.

Nearly seven in 10 voters said Clinton has attacked Obama unfairly, and half said the same of Obama's campaign against Clinton. Those are the highest numbers saying the candidates have unjustly characterized each other since before Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5, according to network exit polls conducted with voters as they left polling places.

Barely more than a third of Clinton voters in Pennsylvania said they would be happy with Obama atop the Democratic ticket; less than half of those backing Obama said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the one leading the challenge of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumed GOP nominee.

Clinton voters also appear especially likely to say they will abandon the party if their candidate is not the nominee. Fifty-three percent of those voting for her yesterday said they would cast a ballot for Obama in a hypothetical November matchup against McCain. More than a quarter said they would vote for the Republican, and about two in 10 said they would not vote at all. More of those supporting Obama in the primary, 68 percent, said they would vote for Clinton over McCain in the fall, if that became their choice.

More than 2 million voters cast Democratic ballots in Pennsylvania, and with her win, Clinton cuts into Obama's margin on the overall popular vote and in pledged delegates. But Obama will take leads on both key measures going into the Indiana and North Carolina primaries in two weeks. With those advantages, he will ultimately be the party's top choice, nearly six in 10 Pennsylvania voters predicted.

Another winner in Pennsylvania appears to be the pollsters.

In a season of unreliable pre-election polls, those conducted before yesterday's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania stand out for their accuracy. Not only did the best of the bunch nearly pinpoint Clinton's margin of victory, but they also accurately described the groups that would propel her to victory.

With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton outpaced Obama in the primary by about 10 percentage points, close to the number reported by high-quality polls taken in the final days of campaigning. In part, the polls were spot-on because voting patterns fell along familiar fault lines, despite the influx of new voters.

New voters were a challenge for some pre-election pollsters. About one in eight primary-day voters said they switched party affiliation or registered to vote for the first time to participate in Pennsylvania's closed primary (where only registered Democrats could take part). These voters went for Obama by 62 percent to 38 percent, and the exit poll showed that these new voters were largely sincere. Overwhelmingly, they said they would stick with their primary choice against McCain in the general election.

Overall, Clinton won women, white voters, seniors and those seeking an experienced candidate. She also won white men and white working-class voters by double-digit margins, just as she did in her 10-point win in Ohio on March 4. Obama scored big wins among African Americans, younger voters and those most interested in a candidate offering change.

The hardening of the coalitions carries forward to general-election preferences. For example, less than half of white non-college-educated Clinton voters and those with family incomes less than $50,000 said they would support Obama over McCain; about a quarter in each group said they would vote for McCain, and similar numbers said they would not vote at all.

Much of the late focus in the primary campaign was on the state's rural voters, and Clinton beat Obama by 22 points among those living in rural areas and small towns. Obama won the state's more African American urban parts by a similar margin.

This poll was conducted by Edison-Mitofsky for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and the Associated Press. Overall, 2,217 interviews were conducted with Democratic voters at 40 randomly selected polling places. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. Error margins are larger for subgroups.

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